Someone recently suggested I do some tutorials on jewelry-making, and I truly appreciated the thought. The problem is, Shannon is our resident jewelry artisan & designer, and she's swamped with day-job stuff. Someday hopefully she will be able to make some videos and share her techniques, but in the meantime, there is an incredible wealth of resources available from experts near and far, depending on your particular interests.
Since my previous life was in college administration, I'm a big fan of formal education. My strongest recommendation to folks, if they have the time and means, would be to go to an art institute or formal jewelry program. GIA (the Gemological Institute of America) is one to consider. In their jewelry design and technology program, they cover the gamut, from jewelry design and manufacturing. to CAD design software, product concept development, rapid prototyping, and more. Their training is the 'gold standard' for many in the jewelry business, especially for those who want to work with gemstones.
If you are more into goldsmithing or metalsmithing, a program specific to that specialty may be more of interest. In this case, I'm going to share the advice of Helen Driggs, senior editor of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist magazine and host of best-selling jewelry-making Metalsmith Essentials series DVDs, including Basic Fabrication, Textures and Patinas, and Riveting and Cold Connections. Helen says the most important thing she did was take a 10-week Jewelry and Metals class at the The University of The Arts in Philadelphia. It gave her a firm foundation in all of the basics, plus she learned to solder and use shop tools properly. There, she was exposed to many techniques and metalworking disciplines that weren't covered her basics class, such as blacksmithing, enameling, forging, and casting. Seeing that work going on helped her decide what she wanted to pursue in her own work. And she recommends continuing education as well. She says the aspiring metalworker should take every class or workshop they possibly can, according to their interests. She also recommends reading everything you can to learn about techniques. We learned about Helen through the great magazine Jewelry Making Daily, where you can learn about almost every type of jewelry making there is. Check them out here: http://www.jewelrymakingdaily.com/
What if you just want instruction in basic stringing and wirework? Internet videos/tutorials might be the most affordable (some classes are even free!), least demanding/life-changing option. Here are just a few sites you might want to check out for the basics, if you like learning online.
If you prefer an in-person experience, look around in your own community for resources. The craft store Michaels sometimes offers 'on-ground' jewelry-making classes. And my old community college also offered a very affordable and comprehensive jewelry-making program (and still does, for a matter of fact -- here's their web site: http://www.sfcc.edu/programs/jewelry
There are classes at bead fairs and gem shows (check out the Gem and Mineral Show in Tucson -- you can read more about it in this previous post on Preparing for the Tucson Gem Show), and there's Bead Fest coming up in a few different places, with a huge selection of workshops and learning opportunities. And there's the Bead Cruise I wrote about previously, where you not only get to see the Caribbean, you get to learn how to make great jewelry! And there are local artisans who are eager to connect with people who are serious about learning their craft, and teach them! (Read about our friend Nanette, who does this at the Sonoran School of Glass in Tucson, AZ.)
On Pinterest, here are a few boards focused on providing resources for training in beading/jewelry making:
And there are groups on LinkedIn and Facebook devoted to moral support, advice and help to aspiring and developing artisans -- here are a few examples:
Artfire, Beads and Beading, Beads, Beading and Jewelry Supplies, Jewelry By Design, Handmadeology, and More... (LinkedIn)
Artisan Jewelry Designers, South West Jewelry Makers, Jewelry, Gemstones, Wirewrapping, & Handmade, and More... (Facebook)
Then in the big general world of the Internet, I found these resources -- some are likely good to excellent, though I can't claim to have tried them out.
In the end, it's nice to see that it's sort of an equal-opportunity world out there when it comes to jewelry making. I still say the best way is to go to an art institute or to GIA, but if you can't afford that in terms of time or money, there are many, many other ways to pursue this passion. To me, perhaps a question more important than 'where do you train' is, what is it exactly that you want to do? Is it the craft of lampwork that is so alluring? Or the dream of being an a modern-day alchemist, turning gold and precious metals into beautiful works of art? Or is it simply to take a set of beautiful gemstone beads and work them into a stunning necklace design?
The answer to the question of where you pursue your training cannot be effectively tackled until you identify that most important question: What is your specialty and your true desire? Many great artisans only learned a few specific techniques, and then turned those into high art -- peyote stitch, chainmaille, dichroic glass, lampwork, goldsmith, wirework -- you don't have to learn it all! It is true that as Helen Driggs said, it helps to be in an environment where you can see the uinverse of jewelry making in action, because until you see it, you may not know it was what you were born to do. In some small way -- that's what I try to do with this blog -- expose you, bit by bit, to the great big universe of beads and jewelry creation -- to help you discover what MOST floats your boat.
If you have specific questions about resources in your area, or which path to take, we hope you'll get in touch. We will be happy to help you research it! And in the meantime, you might also be interested in our previous post about the elements of design -- which gives you an idea about how complex this business is. You can go as shallow or deep as you like -- as beautiful things can be made with simple, affordable items, and a good sense of style and taste. But there is a limitless ocean of knowledge and skill beyond the basics, hard won and shared throughout the ages -- and available to you. It's like anything else; all you have to do is want it, enough, and then do it. :-)
Until Next Time,
p.s. Check out the notice about Bead Fest on our web site while you're here -- we'll be at the Santa Fe show and we're offering a discount coupon for admission. More about that in upcoming posts!